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Although businesses have an extra year to chew on it, barring a miracle, they'll eventually have to figure out what the updates to Regulation 6 of the UK's Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 mean and how to make sure they're adhered to.

Those updates, of course, require that users provide "consent" for the placement of a cookie on their machines.

One of the big question marks is how the new regulations are applied to third party cookies, like those used by analytics services, including Google Analytics.

What we do know: anyone who chooses to ask permission to place an analytics-related cookie may have to kiss their analytics data goodbye.

That's because a Freedom of Information request has revealed that the ICO itself saw a massive drop in traffic tracked by Google Analytics following its decision to ask permission to place the almost-ubiquitous Google Analytics cookie.

As Chinwag humorously notes, "Perhaps this is a portent of doom for anyone that relies on multiple cookies for tracking, customer service, analytics, advertising. Oh, wait, that's everyone?"

Needless to say, the ICO's newfound inability to track traffic to its own website thanks to the regulations it has to promulgate will only fuel further debate about the new cookie regulations.

But the situation may be even worse outside of the U.K. Yesterday, in what may prove to be one of the most mind-boggling decisions in internet legal history, the Dutch parliament passed an even more stringent cookie law.

Not only does it require that users opt in to the placement of a cookie, it also requires that a website operator be able to prove that the cookie was accepted. Hand, meet forehead.

The Netherlands is a huge market, and Stephan Noller, CEO of an ad consultancy told the Wall Street Journal, "50% of campaigns in euro volumes might be shut down." Even worse, because the Journal notes that the EU is "committed to harmonizing rules," the Dutch application of the directive could eventually be forced upon other nations.

Of course, despite their best attempts, bureaucrats in the EU won't be able to break the internet. All of this cookie craziness, if not stopped dead in its tracks, will inevitably lead companies to relocate to friendlier locations where those in power still understand that cookies, in moderation, aren't bad for your health.

Patricio Robles

Published 23 June, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Cookie Monster

Ha, ridiculous law, no one will ever comply with this, it's digital suicide.

about 5 years ago

John Braithwaite

John Braithwaite, Managing Director at Ergo Digital

Why don't we all just band together and block out all visitors who don't accept cookies. Then we all share a 'open source' cookie which serves each site's purposes.

For the user that doesn't accept: they can have their privacy and they can get in return... a big white space.

'Free' is hard enough to get to work for many online publishers, and I think the online user gets massive value from having access to so many things.

Why not say to the user:
Want free? Then accept this cookie...
What privacy? Pay this small monthly subscription...

about 5 years ago

Nicola Taylor

Nicola Taylor, eMarketing Manager at Reed Exhibitions

It will be really interesting to see how the market adapts to this whole thing... Will a new kind of tracking technology that doesn't require cookies emerge? Hopefully the policy makers will get enough pressure from their internal marketers not being able to make any decisions based on cookie usage and do an about turn!

about 5 years ago

Matt Clarke

Matt Clarke, Ecommerce Director at B2B

Really interesting post.

You can always rely on a politician to add fuel to the fire, or pour petrol on it.

In a recent interview about the legislation, the Conservative MEP Malcolm Harbour, who has been involved in this legislation, said: "[This] doesn't seem to me to be rocket science and I'm staggered, frankly, that it's caused so much problem."

He blames over-eager lawyers misinterpreting it. "If they got back to the basic principles of what the legislators wanted to achieve, and after all it was passed by parliament and member states, and now we have all these retrospective problems. Let's have some applied common sense please and sort this thing out."

Perhaps he should put himself in the shoes of those businesses dependent upon web analytics to provide both accurate reporting and actionable recommendations. Because with a ca. 10% opt-in rate, standard cookie-based web analytics tools aren't going to be capable of providing accurate data, which really is a problem.

As Nicola says, I think we're really depending upon the tools providers to come up with a server side solution to allow us to go back to the old days of tracking without cookies. It's not going to be anywhere near as sophisticated, but at least it's going to be better than an immeasurable ca. 10% of users being tracked anonymously.

about 5 years ago

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AP²

While the law may be too intransigent, personally I'm all for blocking _third-party_ cookies. I'm tired of being spied by Google on every site I visit because webmasters are too ignorant or lazy to set up their own analytics software.

about 5 years ago

Matt Clarke

Matt Clarke, Ecommerce Director at B2B

Google Analytics and most other web analytics tools actually use first party cookies.

about 5 years ago

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